Winding up park a bigger and costlier headache, says Lau

Top News | 19 May 2020

Sophie Hui

Winding up Ocean Park will pose problems in terms of finances and rehousing the animals, says deputy chairman Lau Ming-wai.

The government is seeking HK$5.4 billion to support the park for the next year and to prevent it going bust when it runs out of cash on June 30.

The Legislative Council's Finance Committee will discuss the funding application today.

The park needs more than HK$10 billion to wind up, making it costlier than the HK$5.4 billion short-term funding it is seeking, Lau said.

If the park winds up, it will have to repay commercial loans, rehouse the animals, remove facilities and pay off employees, and the government loan to the park will also become bad debts, he added.

"It will not have a beautiful ending if the park winds up," Lau said. He said the park faces limitations in seeking funds under the current Ocean Park Corporation Ordinance, as it cannot raise funds or cooperate with other theme parks under the ordinance.

Responding to views that the park should not be saved, Lau said the park is not only a business.

"The park is a rare statutory body in Hong Kong," he said. "It has to provide a number of public services and it is self-financed without regular government subsidies.

"It is difficult for any management to run the park under these rules."

He said it is not easy to rehouse the animals. For example, Lau said, it does not simply involve returning aquatic animals to the sea.

If Legco approves the HK$5.4 billion funding, he said the government will set up an inter-departmental review committee for the repositioning of the park, which will come up with a plan in six months.

"It will allow the park to have infinite possibilities for its future," Lau said, adding the park may develop its waterfront in the future.

"Any plan the review committee comes up with will be better than the park being liquidated chaotically," he said.

Lau said the park does not have a predetermined stance for its repositioning.

But he said the plan by the review committee has to make the park become sustainable financially and its new positioning satisfactory with people in Hong Kong.

Jan Chan Ka-chun, founder and chief executive of Planet Discovery, said many of the park's 7,500 animals are introduced species and returning them to the wild rashly will seriously affect local species.

Rebecca Lee Lok-sze, founder of Polar Museum Foundation, said the park has done a lot of education work over the past decades and Hong Kong will lose an important ocean education base if it is shut down.

Of the HK$5.4 billion being sought, about HK$3 billion will be used to repay commercial loans, and HK$1.1 billion will be used as operating costs. The rest will be used to pay other outstanding liabilities and to complete the new Water World feature.

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